For A’s birthday this year, we spent four weeks in Dubai, Italy and Barcelona. Our trip to Barcelona was only for four days but it was the highlight of our trip. The food, city and company were spectacular, as we met up with our friends G and Pepa who currently live in London. Pepa is originally from Barcelona and was happy to show A and I around her city. Both Pepa and G are foodies too so naturally, our weekend revolved around food, catching up and celebrating G & A’s birthdays.
I’ve documented below the dishes I fell in love with in Barcelona and Pepa has been kind enough to provide a few basics for Spanish and Catalan food.
Pimientos del Padrón – Fried green peppers. Typically, they are quite mild but I was told that there is always one hot pepper amongst them. Luckily, A and I didn’t end up with one as even though they were mild, the seeds still had a little bite to some of them.
Pintxos – Pintxos are finger foods, served on a slice of bread and can be served cold or warm. Typically, you order what is at the bar and can either choose to make them a bar snack while you wait for your table or enjoy these finger foods in bulk.
A and I had a night alone in Barcelona and wanted to ask a local where to eat. We went into a hotel lobby and the young lady at reception was more than happy to rattle off five or so recommendations. We decided to visit the restaurant that supposedly had a long wait time and was popular with locals and tourists – Cerveceria Catalana. When we arrived, the restaurant and bar was so packed that it was hard to move around within their large establishment. We put our name down for a table but luckily snagged a seat at the bar and after an hour wait decided to eat a variety of pintxos for dinner with our bottle of cava. It was a lovely evening!
Jamón – Jamón is the Spanish word for ham and I have to say, we found the Spanish Jamón better than the Italian counterparts. Typically, this term refers to dry-cured ham and there are many types, including Jamón Serrano and Jamón Iberico. Spanish Iberico ham (Jamón Ibérico), or also known as Jamón Pata Negra, can come in different types and grades: Jamón de Jabugo, Jamón de Cebo or Jamón Serrano, to name a few. Don’t leave Spain without trying Iberico ham and the best way to do it is by adding some slices on top of ‘pan con tomate’. This is a typical Catalan dish and is simply a slice of toasted crusty bread with tomato rubbed in (cut the tomato in half first to let the juices out, or if the tomatoes are not as soft as the ones you find in Spain, just grate it). Then, add a good spurt of olive oil and salt. You can also rub some garlic before adding the tomato.
Patatas Bravas – This tapas dish was a favourite of A and I. In Barcelona, we sampled a few renditions and the majority had a spicy tomato sauce on top. Pepa mentioned that this sauce is not typical within Catalan cuisine and are usually just served with aioli. Regardless, both versions are spectacular and are great to nibble on while enjoying a beverage.
Croquetas de pollo or croquetas de Jamón – Ham or Chicken Croquettes. While I was in Barcelona, Pepa taught me that traditional croquettes do not contain mashed potato (which seems to be found a lot in Perth), but a thick béchamel sauce. A and I ordered quite a few croquetas and we could definitely tell the difference from ones we’ve tried in Australia – these ones are rich and decadent. Our favourite croquetas were had at Cerveceria Catalana, which were filled with chicken and ham and can be seen below. If you’re in Barcelona, I highly recommend a visit to Cerveceria Catalana.
Calamares a la andaluza (Andulasian squid) – crispy squid served with fresh lemon.
Pescadito frito – Fried small fish, which reminded me of the whitebait I tried in New Zealand late last year. Salt is the only seasoning once these fish are coated in flour and fried, but when served hot this dish is a perfect appetiser.
One of my favourite dishes from our trip to Barcelona was Alcachofas fritas which were fried baby artichokes that are very thinly sliced and are heavily seasoned with salt. The end result are crisp, salty bits of artichoke that still have the strong, earthy flavour of this tasty vegetable.
Fideuá con gambas y almejas (noodles with clams and prawns). Served with aoili.
Arros Caldos (rice with artichokes, shrimps, and cuttlefish cooked over charcoal). This is a typical Catalan dish, with more sauce than Paella.
Merfuza al horno con patata, cebolla y tomate (baked hake with potatoes, tomato and onion).
Huevos estrellados (Egg, shrimp, potato and chorizo oil) at Bar Mut. This dish had me pausing at every mouthful and exclaiming how good it was (there’s something about chorizo oil and egg that goes so well together!). This isn’t a typical Catalan dish but regardless, head to Bar Mut for an amazing lunch and order this at once!
Yoghurt ice cream with basil pesto and tomato sauce – Now, when I was told what this dish consisted of I was a little apprehensive. Regardless, I was keen to try it as Pepa and her family hadn’t steered us wrong throughout our whirlwind foodie weekend. Amazingly, this flavour combination was delicious and is definitely another dish to try when you’re in Barcelona.
Churros with chocolate dipping sauce – I was excited to try churros while we were in Barcelona and Pepa and G took us to one of their favourite places to indulge in Churros (xurros), Granja Dulcinea Xocolateria. This place has been around since 1930 and serves two options, churros and melindros, which are similar to sponge fingers.
We dined at Velodromo Bar one evening and overheard the table next to us enjoying the Chocolate and Olive Oil bread. To finish our wonderful dinner, we decided to order a plate of this to share. It was another unusual flavour combination but it worked. Worth a try!
One of G’s favourite drinks is Clara, a refreshing mix of beer and solo.
Vichy Catalan sparkling water – This sparkling water was unlike anything I’ve tried as it’s very salty and is overall very unique in flavour. Give it a try and see if you’d like it!
Tinto de Verano is similar to Sangria and made with red wine, gaseosa (similar to lemonade), lemon and ice. I enjoyed this more than sangria!
Spanish and Catalan food – a few basics by Pepa Barril
Not many people fully understand Spanish and – since I’m from Barcelona – Catalan food. Italian and French cuisine is more well-known worldwide, and some people still don’t totally grasp its essence; but it has more richness and complexity than one can imagine. For the majority it all boils down to tortilla, patatas bravas, croquetas, jamón and paella (pronounced pah-e-yah, not pah-ye-lah as 99% of people say it). So when Natalie and A came from Australia all the way down (or up) to Barcelona to celebrate A’s birthday, I decided I’d show them what Spanish and Catalan food is all about.
First some basic rules. The traditional tortilla is ONLY made with potatoes and eggs. One can add a bit of onion to add taste. But do not, please, throw any other strange ingredients in there. It won’t be Spanish tortilla. I have to say, there are some variations, e.g. cougettes and egg, or aubergine and egg, but don’t add any strange herb or cook it in the oven, as trendy Jamie did once. It might be fun and look cool, but it won’t be a Spanish tortilla. It should only be a sole ingredient (usually potaotes), and egg. And it should be deep fried in a pan (the potatoes) and then mixed with the eggs in a bowl, and then fried in a pan on both sides.
The typical Spanish croquetas do not have potato in them. Never. Maybe the French put potatoes, and this is why people tend to think they have potato. They are usually chicken or ham croquetas. So this means, shredded chicken in a thick white sauce or ham cut in small cubes with a thick bechamel style sauce. Then, covered in breadcrumbs and fried. The veggie version can be done by replacing the chicken or ham with mushrooms or spinach.
Now, Spanish Iberico ham (Jamón Ibérico), or also known as Jamón Pata Negra. There are different types and grades: Jamón de Jabugo, Jamón de Cebo or Jamón Serrano, to name a few. An English chef, whose name I now don’t recall, called Iberico ham the Rolls Royce of hams. Forget Parma ham. You can’t leave Spain without trying Iberico ham. And the best way to do it is by adding some slices on top of ‘pa amb tomaquet’. This is a typical Catalan dish is simple but delicious. It’s a slice of nice toasted crusty bread, with tomato rubbed in (cut the tomato in half first to let the juices out, or if the tomatoes are not as soft as the ones you find in Spain, just grate it). Then, add a good drizzle of olive oil and salt. You can also rub some garlic before adding the tomato.
Other types of cured meat you should try in Barcelona are: sobrasada (from the Balearic Islands, it’s of an orange colour and you spread it on bread), fuet (like saucisson but the Catalan version), chorizo (as the ham, it can also be ‘iberico’ which is of higher quality), longaniza (again, like saucisson), lomo, manchego cheese (the most typical Spanish cheese), just to name a few. All can be eaten with the ‘pa amb tomaquet’ (or ‘pan con tomate’ in Spanish rather than Catalan).
Next thing is the paella. But this time I’m not going to talk about it. There’s been lots said about it. I’m going to talk about it’s Catalan cousins, which is what we tried when we went to the restaurant Agua, by Barceloneta , overlooking the sea. We had arros caldós, which is a saucier version of paella – e.g. the rice is not so dry (it has a bit of sauce) and it’s also cooked with seafood, which gives it its rich sea flavour. The other cousin, is Fideua, which is done also with seafood but replacing the rice for short noodles. And not to forget Arros negre (black rice): the vast majority of restaurants will cook it with the calamari ink, and it’s has been spread so widely that it is accepted as such. But contrary to popular belief, in it’s origins, they used to cook it only with onions, at a very slow heat for hours and hours, till it turned the rice black.
At Agua, we also had Calamares a la andaluza, which is a nicer version of the typical calamari you find everywhere in the world you go (we call these Calamares a la Romana). Calamares a la Andaluza are cut in a different way to the calamari rings, and for me, the secret is in the butter: it’s very light and airy, and not that fat crust that we usually find choking the poor calamari. Or you can have Chipirones, which are baby calamari also fried, which are delicious.
Other dishes you should try in Spain are: pimientos del padrón (small green peppers, at least one of them will be spicy in a serving, so it’s almost a game of Russian Roulette), escalivada (peppers, aubergine and onions grilled in the oven and served cold in olive oil), gazpacho (cold tomato, peppers and cucumber soup – I know it doesn’t sound great, but I promise you, it’s delicious!), and for desert Crema Catalana, which is the Catalan version of the French Creme Brulee (some claim ito be the predecessor).
And on our last day in Barcelona, we tried to go to Bar Tomás, where they do the best Patatas Bravas in Barcelona, but it was closed. No description can be made. You have to try them.
These are only a taste of the dishes that Spanish and Catalan cooking has to offer. I could write for hours and still not finish the long list of recipes that are worth trying, for their exclusive taste and flavour. But these are the most well know. For the rest, you’ll have to visit Barcelona and find out for yourself!
Pepa Barril previously wrote foodandaway.com.
Special thanks to Pepa for contributing to this blog with her insight into Catalan cuisine as well as the excellent restaurant and dish recommendations made by her and G. We loved our time in Barcelona and cannot wait to return!